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Power to the peeps

You can't be chicken and love Peeps. As the super-sweet Easter phenom strides into new scenes, it requires ever more flamboyant fans, folks who can swallow Peeps fashion, Peeps online and Peeps tatoos.

Clockwise from
top left:

Peep Show,

St. Peep Beach,

Titanic Peep,

Nelson-Folkerson Peeps,

 

El Nino Peep,

Pet Peep,

Dali Peep,

Devil Rays Peep

 

[Times photos:
Brian Baer]

By SUSAN ASCHOFF

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 8, 1998


They should be passe, these yolk-yellow blobs, each pulled from a clump of its chick buddies and stuffed head first into the mouth.

Peeps do not pop, ooze, explode, stain or pucker the palate like other au courant candy. A Peep is a pure sugar rush.

The gooey marshmallow Easter treat is more popular than ever. Enough are sold each Easter season for every man, woman and child in the United States to eat at least one. Peeps preen on almost 20 Web sites. They are lauded by fans for their adaptability as toss balls or hair ornaments. They inspire song and verse. They look nice in family photos.

Deconstructing Peeps

• It takes six minutes to make a Peep.

• In 1953, it took 27 hours to make a Peep; the recipe required new Peeps to sit overnight.

• Then, Peeps were squeezed out of a pastry tube one at a time and the eyes were painted by hand. Now modern technology can make 3,500 Peep eyes per minute.

• One urban myth about Peeps is that their black-dot eyes are made of tar. Not true. They are made of wax.

• As many as 2-million Peeps a day roll off the conveyor belts at Just Born Inc.

• About 30 percent of Peep eaters like them stale, though Just Born wraps Peeps within six minutes to keep them fresh.

• Some people freeze Peeps. Some microwave them. Or roast them. There are those who use Peeps as pizza topping.

• Each Peep has 32 calories and is fat-free. A five-chick serving is 160 calories and a jolting 36 grams of sugar.

• Employee Candy Madea is Peeps’ eye inspector. Peeps with missing or mislocated eyes are melted down. Rest in Peeps.

"They're good-natured little guys," says Rose Craig, who speaks for Peeps' maker, Just Born Inc. The specialty candy company, in Bethlehem, Pa., will make 600-million Marshmallow Peeps and Marshmallow Bunnies this season. The sugar-dusted fluff will outsell all other non-chocolate Easter candy, including jelly beans.

"The world is divided into two," Craig says. "One group looks at a Peep and says, "You eat that?' And the other group really loves them. There is no on-the-fence in Peepdom."

Peep-haters dismiss them as too cute, too sweet. The little yellow-bellies let people bite their heads off.

But what's not to like?

Here is a candy so unapologetically sweet the sugar crunches on the teeth. Here is an edible so personable it can be dressed in cute little costumes. The Internet is alive with would-be Henry Higginses to Liza Peeps.

In a Best-Dressed Peeps contest in Philadelphia, a Peep wearing a scrap of cape becomes Lil' Bo Peep. Another on a tiny motorcycle is Peepy Rider. Peeps decorate a purse carried by a drag queen in an Easter-grass skirt. A movie concept, Bad Peeps, shows tattooed gang Peeps.

Peeps are popped into cocktail glasses to make Peeptinis, or spiked on skewers for Peep Kebabs. They are gorp for hikers; carbo-loading for lacrosse players.

In a Peeps Eating Contest, posted results show Mike inhaled five Peeps in 24.3 seconds.

Peeps are the weapons of subversives. One mall rat e-mails that she and a friend "Peep'ed" the shopping mall, sticking Peeps inside shoes and on store displays with ugly clothing. The notes read: You've been peeped.

"We have pictures of Peeps on Mount Nepal" that people sent us, Craig says. "I just don't think to pack Peeps when I travel."

"There's some I've talked to who do a lot of backpedaling to convince me they're responsible adults with families and jobs." She fondly calls them Peep Geeks.

Many credit Peeps' sweet sales figures to nostalgia among baby boomers, who are buying them for their own children. Just Born Inc. has made Peeps and Bunnies for 45 years.

Take a Peep on the Web

Tracy & Mia's Peep-O-Rama (http://www.critpath.org/~tracy/gallery.html): Here are some more Peeps poses, including a Peeps tea party and "Pierced Peep," looking like a reject from Ybor

The Unofficial Marshmallow Peeps Page (http://www.wam.umd.edu/~ejack/peep.html): A Dali-look-alike Peep by University of Maryland student Jack Eidsness gives recipes for Peepuccino and nuking a Peep in a microwave as well as a parody of Truman Capote's An Easter Memory.

Hey, Hey We're The Peepkees (http://users.ids.net/~flamingo/mp.html): Just when you thought we'd closed the category, "Bad Bands of the '60s," here comes songs about marshmallow candy set to Monkees tunes. (If only we could remember the melody.)

Usenet newsgroups: (alt.food.peeps) and (alt.marshmellow.peeps)

The company is a small but crucial candy forefather: It makes Hot Tamales, Mike & Ike and Teenee Beanee gourmet jelly beans. It invented chocolate sprinkles, hard chocolate coating on ice cream, and the Born Sucker, a machine that mechanically inserts sticks into lollipops.

Over the decades there have been few changes to Peeps. Peep wings were removed in 1991. The color purple was added in 1995, joining pink and the best-selling yellow. There are white Peeps, too, but they are scarce. Craig speculates that cooks snap up the white ones for their decorative possibilities. This year the company introduced bright blue.

Blue tests well for food products aimed at children: Jell-O, gum, sports drinks. The color consultant Pantone named blue the cutting-edge shade for toasters. Surely Pantone executives would be gratified to know Peeps are proving the prediction.

In talk of focus groups and colorcasting, Craig sounds almost as if she's trying to make Peeps . . . hip. Peeps compete against 500 new candy products on the market every year. Children today eat revoltingly bitter Mega Warheads, Shock Tarts, inky Splash Gum and slime out of a tube.

Peeps, by comparison, are tame, virtuous.

"Peeps don't do anything," Craig says. "For some people, that's kind of appealing: Simplicity."



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